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: You Mislead! Fact checking Obama

Eric Johnson
09-29-2009, 08:03 PM

By Michael F. Cannon and Ramesh Ponnuru

It is a good thing that other congressmen did not follow Rep. Joe Wilson’s lead. If they yelled out every time President Obama said something untrue about health care, they would quickly find themselves growing hoarse.

By our count, the president made more than 20 inaccurate claims in his speech to Congress. We have excluded several comments that are deeply misleading but not outright false. (For example: Obama pledged not to tap the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform. But there is no money in that “trust fund,” anyway, so the pledge is meaningless.) Even so, we may have missed one or more false statements by the president. Our failure to include one of his comments in the following list should not be taken to constitute an endorsement of its accuracy, let alone wisdom.


09-29-2009, 08:21 PM
This is actually one of the weaker analyses I've seen from the National Review since many of the so-called "lies" are at best arguable with evidence on both sides. By their own description, there was a basis for each of the statements made except fo the ones that arepurely a matter of opinion. I'll have to see if I have time to respond in detail as well as address the "republican response" which. as I remember it, was extremely misleading.

09-30-2009, 06:55 AM
In my analysis, I have quoted the Obama statement that the National Review characterizes as a lie, followed by my response. The National Review arguments are included in the full article cited by Eric.

Assessing the so called "lies":

1. “Buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer.”

On average, employers pay 70% of the cost of health insurance; employees pay 30%. If a person is forced to buy that insurance out of their own pocket, tghey will on average pay 3.33 times as much as they would pay as an employee.

2. “There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

The Census reports show about 46 million uninsured of which more than 30 million are Americans. The "lie" is that the National Review is saying that not all of those people were uninsured for the whole year. Interestingly, in estimating the cost of insuring the uninsured, conservatives use the 46 million number even though it includes illegal aliens who are not covered. When discussing the problem, they go through extreme contortions to argue that the problem is actually much smaller. Go figure.

3.“And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage.”

The National Review disagrees with this number, which it admits is based on a study of recent trends (see ( based on the fact that it reflects a bad period in the economy and would not be true at other times. True. That doesn't make the President's number a lie. The truth is that in times of economic stress, those who are now protected by insurance through their employer may fnd themselves having just lost their jobs, ther incomes, and the medical insurance.

4. “One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy. . . . They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it.”

Based on a WSJ story on following the President's speech, the National Review article notes that the patient did not die as a result of delays in treatment. However, they do not tell the whole story. The President's statement was based on a story in Slate. That story contained an error. Insurance for the man in question was canceled when he became ill. However, the Illinois Insurance Commissioner initiated litigation against the insurance company and, after several weeks, was able to overturn the cancelation, forcing the insurance company to pay. Contrary to the original news report, treatment was provided within the time period considered appropriate because of the litigation. The patient still died three years later. The President based his statement on an erroneous story. However, the story that the President told was accurate with respect to the insurance company's action to cancel coverage as soon as the patient became ill. (See

5. “Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne.”

This is another story from the President's speech that was "debunked" by the WSJ article. The President's story came from a Congressional reort following hearings on such problems. As noted in the National Review article, "It also suggests that the dermatologist’s chart may have described her skin condition as precancerous, that the insurer also took issue with an apparent failure to disclose an earlier problem with an irregular heartbeat, and that she knowingly underreported her weight on the application.”" Note that underreporting her pre-coverage weight and possibly failing to report arrythmia would have had no link whatsoever to her subsequent breast cancer and there was no proof that she was ever told that her skin condition might be anything other than acne or that it was related to her illness. Had she not become ill, the insurancovere company would have been happy to accept her premium payments forever. When she did become ill, they looked for any excuse to cancedl cage whether it was related to her illness or not.

6. Rising costs are “why so many employers . . . are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance.”

The National Review calls this a lie based on the fact that insurance costs are part of employee compensation and that wages would go up if insurance were not being paid. They cite support from economists in this assertion. The specific article cited is not accessible without a subscription I do not have. However, from my own experience, I can say absolutely that employees value dollars spent by employers on health insurance less than dollars they receive in compensation. I know this because I ended up offering my employees (110 at the time) a choice: I would continue paying their premiums, or I would add that amount to their salaries and they would pay their own premiums. Employees unanimously elected to receive the money as salary. About 40% then dropped insurance immediately (by the way, their average income at the time was $90,000/year), either going without or replacing the coverage we offered with cheaper and less comprehensive coverage. As an employer, I could not afford to continue providing coverage because I was competing against companies that did not pay insurance in art because health care costs were paid by national insurance plans financed through taxes.

7. Rising costs are “why American business that compete internationally . . . are at a huge disadvantage.”

This is effectively the same argument provided above.

8. “Those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it — about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else’s emergency room and charitable care.”

In calling this statement a lie, the National Review cites a study by the Kaiser Foundation (see This is interesting since that study first notes that there is a statistical basis for the number cited by the President (they actually cite the unreimbursed costs at $1,113) but they then challenge the validity of that number and conclude that the actual cost is slightly over $200. The source of the higher number is not a "left wing" publication as suggested by the National Review, but the arguments of private care providers arguing for higher reimbursement rates to help them cover the cost of unreimbursed care. In fact, what the Kaiser study suggests is that private care providers have been overpaid by insurers for these costs. The same Kaiser study suggests that the cost of covering the uninsured is likely to be lower than the numbers generally estimated by conservatives in their attacks on proposed national plans.

That's all I have time for now. Maybe more later.

09-30-2009, 07:53 AM
Continuing with the analysis:

9. At this point, Obama said, “These are the facts. Nobody disputes them.”

This is one of those ambiguous comments since you do not know which part of the President's speech is being referenced. To put is in context, the quote indicated appears as follows (transcript at

"Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.

These are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how."

10. “[Reform] will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.”

In saying that this statement is a lie, the National Review bases its conclusion on a quote from CBO Director Elmendorf made two days after the introduction of HR 3200. Elmendorf specifically stated that they had not yet reviewed that bill. Also, while Obama was talking about the overall cost of health care, Elmendorf was talking only about the Federal budget. His point was that if the Federal government assumes the cost of subsidizing care for the uninsured population, there must be massive savings to offset that increased cost. Ultimately, the CBO concluded that HR 3200 would add $229 billion to the budget over 10 years but only because it did not explicitly address the always deferred 1996 requirement of the Medicare law that reimbursement rates be decreased every year to offset inflation. When this is taken out, the CBO actually estimated that the savings and revenues built into the bill would offset the increased cost of subsidies and result in a net reduction in Federal deficits.

Having said that, the question of long term impact on health care costs is a fair one. Clearly, doing nothing will result in a continuation of current growth treands which are bankrupting our nation. If we have a current plan, it seems to be to reduce the number of people covered by private insurance every year (as has been the case for some time) and either add them to the ranks of the uninsured or cover them through Medicaid. In my mind, that approach is worse than any if the pans now under consideration for reform.

11. “Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.”

The article argues that this is a lie because Medicare savings might require rate cuts and rate cuts could cause doctors to discontinue accepting Medicare, thereby forcing Medicare recipients to change doctors. Pretty weak basis for calling the President a liar. I have been forced to change doctors four times over the last ten years because of changes in the physicians included in my insurance plan networks. Unfortunately, that is something to which most Americans have been forced to adapt.

Bob Gutermuth
09-30-2009, 08:57 AM
Rep Joe Wilson hit the nail on the head. I hope we gets re-elected.

09-30-2009, 09:15 AM
Rep Joe Wilson hit the nail on the head. I hope we gets re-elected.

I like the sound of Rep. Robbie Miller.

09-30-2009, 09:27 AM
Rep Joe Wilson hit the nail on the head. I hope we gets re-elected.

Only one person spoke the truth in congress that night and it was not the president.